> Volume 5 > Number 23

Volume 5, Number 23

This Week's Reviews:  Levity, Hollywood Homicide, 2 Fast 2 Furious.

This Week's Omissions:  Fulltime Killer, Pokémon Heroes.

Ed Solomon

Billy Bob Thornton
Holly Hunter
Morgan Freeman
Kirsten Dunst
Manuel Aranguiz
Geoffrey Wigdor
Luke Robertson

Release: 4 Apr. 03



Manuel Jordan (Thornton) doesn’t want to leave prison after 22 years of incarceration because he still has relieved the guilt of killing a 17-year-old in a botched convenience store robbery. For him, live in prison is barely enough to make up for his sins, and would be more than happy to continue on this punishment instead of going back to the real world on time served.

Regardless, the parole board gives lets him out and the rest of the audience begins the punishment of watching a man mope for nearly two hours over personal anguish that never holds true of becomes in the least interesting. Levity -- as the film is titled, though its attempt at irony comes closer to idiocy -- is built on contrivances like the criminal with a guilty conscience and the reverend without a moral foundation. When the film actually pits Manuel with Adele Easley (Hunter), the sister of his victim, and then tries desperately to make it seem understandable that she enters a romantic relationship with a man who (a) she barely knows, (b) seems to be withholding some deep secret, and (c) looks like a white-miened Neil Young.

There are greater sins perpetrated by director-writer Ed Solomon in Levity than simply killing a kid. His is of the most egregious forms of indie film damnation -- it is built on the pretty images (courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins) to convey lovey-dovey liberal messages of communal coexistence, racial harmony, and criminal rehabilitation while never stepping back to notice how ridiculous the whole endeavor is. This is not to say that liberal messages have no place in cinema, but one is more likely to support the conservatism after being as dowdily pandered to as happens in films like Levity.

This is not simply the pitiful gestations of Solomon, who is evidently trying to convince people that he has more in him than simply Bill and Ted and Men in Black films, but of a cast that seems to want to do something with material that might be the worst they’ve encountered in their careers. Thornton is running an approximation of his The Man Who Wasn’t There character, without the baggage of a meaningful scenario to give it purpose; Hunter has played this well-meaning lover/mother character before in better films like Jesus’ Son; Kirsten Dunst, who comes into this film in a drug-induced haze and never fully turns it off even when the character is sober, is a good actress but one burdened by a Hollywood more interested in her unusual beauty than in her acting, a philosophy that seems to be shared by this film’s casting crew (although under their indie banner, Sony, the makers of Spider-Man, still bankrolled the film); and Morgan Freeman, as the great black hope, garbles his dialogue in a performance that makes Dreamcatcher seem utterly brilliant.

Levity is the sort of film that confuses foreshadowing with nimble storytelling, and features contrivances as originality. The discussions Miguel has with the imagined ghost of his victim, I suppose, are meant to carry some great meaning to the needed forgiveness of this character. But this never sits well with me -- it feels much more like a screenwriter imagining his own characters as sole-searching Jesus figures with a horrible case of a Sartrean Napoleonic Complex. Moody and unconditionally ugly, this is a film that remains pretty to look at but vacant to consider. Miguel may finally get that forgiveness from the people who really matter, but for those forced to sit through his unbearable grumbling, getting the forgiveness of the audience may be a much tougher struggle.

©2003, David Perry,, 6 June 2003

Ron Shelton

Harrison Ford
Josh Hartnett
Lena Olin
Bruce Greenwood
Keith David
Isaiah Washington
Dwight Yoakam
Lolita Davidovich
Martin Landau
Master P

Release: 13 Jun. 03

Hollywood Homicide


Ron Shelton has made a career out of making movies about men behaving badly. His oeuvre is built on the adrenaline pumped escapades of the gender who likes its golf, baseball, boxing basketball, and cop films to be devoid of any mushy sentimentality and yet still find some semblance of heart amidst the machismo. I, for some unknown reason, like the director amid all his faults as a filmmaker because he seems to have no inkling of regret that his shtick is such; he is proud of it, and that confidence usually becomes the main draw of his films.

Though he has never quite made a great film, his career is filled with checkered works that range from good (Tin Cup) to mediocre (White Men Can’t Jump) to ugly (Play It to the Bone), and earlier this year he made what is possibly his best work, a flawed little achievement called Dark Blue which flourished under a James Ellroy storyline. In doing research for that film -- recommended now that it is on video -- Shelton met with various LAPD cops (the film looks at a police corruption and power struggle framed by the Rodney King verdict and the L.A. riots) who gave him stories that were often much more humorous than the tone he wanted for Dark Blue. Coming directly off of that film, he went to work with retired police officer Robert Souza to develop a project that could show the oft absurd lifestyle that comes with being a cop in Los Angeles.

Hollywood Homicide succeeds when it remains close to that premise: the farce that can be found in L.A. precincts (this is not Ed Exley’s precinct, to say the least). Here are cops who spend their days investigating homicides and drug deals centering around agents, actors, executives, musicians, and gang members. And the cops are no different, moonlighting in ways that might make Sybil Shepherd and Bruce Willis blush.

Take for example K.C. Calden (Hartnett), a newbie on the force. He spends his spare time teaching yoga classes to buxom young girls, one of whom follows him to bed afterwards, seeing something profound in his shallow demeanor. Eastern philosophy becomes just as important to him as police work (he felt obligated to join the force because his father died in the line of duty), with stacks of books on tantric sexuality in his locker. Meanwhile, he attempts to focus himself on acting, preparing to break out with his upcoming performance as Stanley Kowalski.

His partner, Joe Gavilan (Ford), is a veteran officer who has a string of ex-wives to support and a romance with a psychic (Olin) to keep him from being lonely. His moonlighting is in one of the least liked but possibly most fortuitous jobs: real estate agent. So intent on selling his spec homes is Joe that in the middle of a crime scene, it’s not unusual for him to ask the proprietor of the facility is he’s looking for new property.

Admittedly, the stereotypes are probably a bit heavy-handed and Shelton’s adherence to these stereotypes can get repetitive (the real estate deal is funny the three or four times, by the tenth, it is tired), but it brings a lighter tone to a film that otherwise would have seemed standard and boring. The crime they are investigating -- music industry murders harkening to Biggie and Tupac -- never really clicks and becomes a waste of time. In the end, the best use of this plot is only that it gives some of the best comic exchanges and scenarios in the police buddy comedy genre. Shelton hasn’t reinvented it, but he has made it a little less tedious, and that is quite an achievement in itself.

The two actors are prime for the game, neither seeming out of place although neither have any real training in these films. Hartnett’s dumb, goofy charisma plays well in this role, one of the few times that he successfully used it in a film (with the exception of The Virgin Suicides, he has been fairly useless in films). Meanwhile, Ford seems at home playing everything straight even though the material seems oddly below him. I like the way neither actor really melts well but seem to working together because, well, the producer/captain made them. And all along, I can believe that Ford is a down on his luck realtor and Hartnett is on oversexed fitness guru.

Sure, their purpose for being together -- that little murder plot -- is useless, but when it allows for a never-ending, outrageous chase that changes vehicles thrice and settings a half a dozen times, I have to give them credit. It’s impossible to hate a film where a child in a commandeered car wails over his impending death and is reassured by a cop who says, “Yes, we are all going to die some day.”

©2003, David Perry,, 6 June 2003

John Singleton

Paul Walker
Eva Mendes
Cole Hauser
Thom Barry
James Remar
Devon Aoki

Release: 6 Jun. 03

2 Fast 2 Furious


2 Fast 2 Furious (man, I hate that title) has all the earmarks of an action film sequel that lives up to the aspirations of the original. The only problem is that the film it is serializing isn’t The Fast and the Furious, one of the great guilty pleasures of 2001, but of some more low-brow fare like Bad Boys or Point Break (although, The Fast and the Furious wasn’t far from being a tricked-out remake of Point Break).

John Singleton, a filmmaker best known for his early, thoughtful films like Boyz ‘N the Hood, made a minor comeback the same year as The Fast and the Furious with his return to the hood, Baby Boy. I have received notice from friends that my decisions to herald Baby Boy and defend The Fast and the Furious is the antithesis of my normal rantings, which, I suppose lean towards haughty, white-bred foreign fare, as these friends would describe it. But Singleton, I recognize, has a finer eye and ear for the development of the African American psyche in contemporary times than anyone else except for Spike Lee (who he is considered the West Coast version of).

The Fast and the Furious, meanwhile, was recognized by myself -- among others -- for its excited B-movie style, a pride that it held on high for all to see. There was nothing pretentious or off-putting by the film other than its adherence to certain clichés, but that is par for the course when you are remaking the ideals of a Roger Corman exploitation film. If anyone could take the exploitive side of The Fast and the Furious and give it the right level of Afrocentric spin to liven things up, one might suspect that person would be Singleton (Lee, would probably be unable to loosen up enough for this, putting the politics aside for some giddy fun).

But 2 Fast 2 Furious isn’t what it needs to be. While the first film unfortunately had an edge under director Rob Cohen that veered on taking itself seriously -- a big no-no in the last exploitation action films (hence, the reason Gone in Sixty Seconds is in fact a better film) -- this film never lets off long enough to see that it is not in the least bit serious about capturing what worked the first time around. When the cars are racing, there is a certain amount of adrenaline-fueled fun to be found, but that is barely existent in a exploitation film that attempts to find a complex plot. People aren’t coming to this film for the tale of a drug cartel and the undercover cops trying to infiltrate it; they are there for fast cars, hot bodies, a little visual high, and mid-drifts a little low. The cars are supposed to careen along the highway with grace and beauty while still causing some twisted metal mayhem while Eva Mendes is not supposed to just look sexy but also act sexy (even Antoine Fuqua knew the potential she had in Training Day, and that was a serious film -- I think).

I know that the main blame will fall on this film’s lack of Vin Diesel, who was an attribute to the original, but not the crux of its success. Tyrese, his replacement, is a nimble performer and does hold his own. I like the actor because he seems to be having fun doing this, brushing off his modeling/singing career with a proud career of varied characters (he wasn’t half bad doing drama in Baby Boy). Plus, for both Diesel and Tyrese, it isn’t that hard to seem amazingly charismatic when your costar is a cardboard cut-out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog cover, Paul Walker.

I counter those blaming Diesel’s absence that the main problem -- and I know I can be a broken record about this -- is that 2 Fast 2 Furious relies so heavily on CGI for the action that the cars cease to exist. Sure the images sort-of look like the cars from the previous shot, but their souped-up glean is now just a dull pixel and, regardless of what those effects mavens may say, it is very noticeable. Although The Fast and the Furious did certainly use CGI, it was not at the same level as 2 Fast 2 Furious. This is, after all, a much higher budgeted production than the original, and if they are so afraid to really crash a few cars, they might as well kiss away the possible dividends of 4 Faster Furious Press 3, or whatever stupid title they’ve been coaxing since before this film was in the can.

©2003, David Perry,, 6 June 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry